For the Catholic faithful, this piece of news will definitely be hard to stomach: Pope Francis says he has only two or three years to live.
Although the Argentina-born Pontiff was silent on why he thinks he would not live for more than three years, he hinted that he had ‘some nerve problems’ which require treatment.
He spoke with journalists aboard his jet as he returned from a trip to South Korea.
Francis, according to the Mailonline on Tuesday, also mentioned the possibility of retiring from the Papacy if his health failed to cope with the rigours of his office.
His predecessor, Benedict XVI, stepped down last year, in an unprecedented move that opened the way for Francis to become the Pope.
“I see it as the generosity of the people of God. I try to think of my sins, my mistakes, not to become proud. Because I know it will last only a short time,” the pope said.
Then, apparently light-heartedly, he added, “Two or three years and then I’ll be off to the Father’s house.”
A Vatican source, said the Mailonline had claimed that the Pope had previously told those close to him that he thought he only had a few years to live.
Although Francis is 77, he has been the most vigorous Pope in years, his energy proving the key to his popularity.
His frank admission may lead commentators to speculate as to whether he has any undisclosed health problems.
At the time of his elevation to the Papacy, reports emerged that Francis had a lung removed when he was a teenager in Argentina after suffering an infection.
The Mailonline quoted Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Centre in Nashville, Tennessee in United States, to have said, “So whatever they did got him over that precarious period. As people age, they generally become more susceptible to lung infections, such as pneumonia and bronchitis.”
The risk of lung infections increases if those affected have pre-existing conditions such as a weakened immune system or heart disease.
But Francis joked about the nervous problems, saying, “I must treat them well, these nerves, give them mate (an Argentine stimulant tea) every day.”
“One of these neuroses, is that I’m too much of a homebody,” he added and recalled that the last time he had taken a holiday outside of Argentina was with the Jesuit community in 1975.
Resigning the papacy, as his predecessor Benedict XVI did last year, was also a possibility “even if it does not appeal to some theologians”, Francis told the journalists.
He added that 60 years ago, it was practically unheard of for Catholic bishops to retire, but nowadays it was common.
As the jet travelled through the airspace, Francis also addressed the issues surrounding the Catholic Church in China, a country which refuses to allow Catholics to officially recognise the spiritual leadership of the Vatican.
Since the communist revolution, Catholicism, like all religions, has been permitted to operate only under the supervision of the State Administration for Religious Affairs.
Clerics who resisted this had been subjected to oppression, including long imprisonment torture and even martyrdom.
Pope Francis told the journalists he wanted dialogue with China and the only thing he asked in return was for the Catholic Church to be able to operate freely.